Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is music still for sale?


"...the products of artists may no longer be a saleable item."

Regardless of your taste in music, your favourite genre can probably be traced back decades ago, to times of starving musicians, in small studios, recording on primitive equipment. Distribution of the music was by radio, or even if fortunate enough, to be seen live in small venues.

Nearly without exception, one can listen to these old recordings and be in awe of the talent, and groundbreaking changes that were being made in music. There were no shortages of artists, or floods of awful sounding musicians and performers. These musicians were often less than affluent, and shared their music out of the pure passion of the arts.

Today we have superstars worth millions and millions of dollars. Production company executives living in mansions and enjoy a life of lavish extremes. Not for a moment would I suggest that these artists, producers or executives are contributing less to the art of music, and equally, will be look back at decades later as innovators and geniuses.

So what has changed from the early years of music to present? It is obvious that the amount of income that a superstar (and associates) is a whole different world now. The direction the music industry travelled, with sales of physical recordings, huge distribution channels, royalties, fundamentally changed the income model for musical performers.

But now, there has been another market fundamental change. The internet, the ease of the public to access recordings, and bypassing all of the middle income gathers. Music Piracy. As per a previous blog post, I think this is yet another case that we are attempting to fit an old business model into a new medium that simply does not fit.

To reiterate, the music industry was healthy and booming and innovative in the early 1900’s .. and the market set a value to these performers.. Even with incomes similar to other professions outside of the industry. With the new world of the internet, the market is speaking once again, not willing or wanting to pay for physical recordings, nor paying licence fees, or royalties. We can try to legislate to the market to continue this ridiculous income levels for the performers, distributors and production. I suggest let the market sort this all out. Maybe an artist will settle back to where their true value is, not a starving homeless soul, but live a comfortable life off of live performances, endorsements etc.

Videos, recordings etc, the market has clearly determined are mere commercial advertising opportunities to gain recognition, and fame. Although as incredible it may be to imagine, the product of artists may no longer be a saleable item. Music will continue to exist, as it did before every executive was driving a Porsche or Jaguar. I don’t expect that the artists that shaped today’s music so many years ago drove Lamborghinis and wore millions of dollars worth of jewellery. But the music is here, and will never stop.

A painful but very real market correction is in the works, and police, a judge with a gavel, lawyers cannot stop it.


  1. That's an interesting opinion.

    It would be interesting to know track how music exec salaries have trended over the years as well.

    I also think that the same correction is in order for sports stars.

    People often harp on executive's salaries but there are lots of other example of people being paid way more than their value to society.

  2. I recently ran across a post on facebook that was making it's rounds... Found it a great example of how an entertainer, without the hype of the music industry made only $32 in a public venue, whereas this same artist makes millions, with a cost of $100/seat to pay to see him in concert. This leave one to wonder what this entertainers "REAL" value is, and the possibility that the value of this entertainment is vastly overinflated.. take a read.

    "A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

    Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

    A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk.

    A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

    The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

    In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

    No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

    Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

    This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

    One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be:

    If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?"

    The YouTube Video: